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Being there for other people can be rewarding but it can also bring difficulties.
Anyone can become a carer or supporter regardless of their age, gender or background. The support that people give can also vary a great deal from childcare to being there for someone who has a long-term physical or mental health condition. Support can be offered in the short- or long-term. Carers are often responsible for organising a great deal, in their own lives and on behalf of other people. For example, providing or arranging care for someone else who cannot care for themselves. Often people do this for no financial reward. Common people supported include:
- Family members (e.g. children, parents, siblings or other relatives)
People offer a range of support including:
- Offering emotional support
- Supporting someone to cope with physical or mental health problems
- Cooking and cleaning
- Personal care (e.g. like washing and going to the toilet)
- Budgeting and finances
- Giving medicine or providing medical care
- Interpreting for someone who is deaf or who does not have English as their first language
- Reading information and filling in forms for someone who has literacy or concentration difficulties
What are the difficulties that carers or supporters face?
Caring for someone can be demanding, and sometimes, overwhelming. This can leave people feeling stressed and isolated. Over time, this can lead to the initiation or worsening of mental and physical health problems.
Caring or supporting people can bring a range of difficulties. However, everyone is an individual and each situation is unique. Common challenges include:
Stress and worry
Carers often report feeling stressed and worried. People can spend a lot of time thinking about the person they care for, their difficulties and the impact it is having on both of their lives. People often think about the things that need to be done as part of their role as carer, and find it hard to switch off. Carers may also have difficulty sleeping, eat too much or too little and find their mood is affected.
If a person feels this feel this way over a long period of time, it can have a big impact on their mental health.
Many people find it hard to make time to socialise or carry on with hobbies or interests. Carers may also feel guilty when they take time for themselves. Carers can feel that their life is very different from other people’s, and that others do not understand how they are feeling. Sometimes people may feel worried that they or the person they care for might face stigma. In these situations, carers sometimes find it hard to let people know that they are a carer. This can make them feel very lonely and isolated. Over time, social isolation can lead to mental health problems such as anxiety and depression.
Sometimes carers feel like their peers cannot relate to what they have to deal with. Carers can also be envious of people around them in having a ‘normal’ life, especially if they have little support.
Physical health problems
Caring can be physically demanding. If a carers role involves lifting or carrying, they can suffer from aches and pains, particularly in their back.
Carers may feel run down and tired a lot of the time. This can make them more prone to physical illness, which could develop into a long-term problem. Carers may also not feel they have enough time to be physically active or to cook healthy food.
Carers sometimes find that the challenges they face make them feel low or depressed. Carers may also develop unhelpful coping strategies to deal with these difficult feelings, such as using drugs or alcohol, or eating more or less than they need to. Sometimes carers feel so frustrated or hopeless they have thoughts of harming themselves or even of ending their lives. If this is the case for you, please see the final section below.
Frustration and Anger
Carers may feel very frustrated and angry, especially if they have had to give up parts of their own life. Alternatively, some people feel that they have been given no choice about becoming a carer.
Carers may find that they need to pay for extra care or medical needs. They may be spending lots of money on travel, especially if they don’t live with the person they support. This can put a strain on the their finances, and may mean they have to cut back on other things, causing practical issues and additional stress. Carers may also find that they are not receiving enough financial support or to meet costs, and experience financial worries.
Being a carer can have a big impact on self-esteem. Carers sometimes feel that they are not worthy of care and attention, and that all their time should be focused on the person they care for. Carers may find it hard to interact socially, or feel that they are missing out on parts of having a normal life.
Sometimes people lose confidence in themselves and their ability to do anything outside of their caring responsibilities.
When is caring or supporting a problem?
This can differ between people depending on their personality, their coping skills, the support they have around them and the demands of life. What is not seen as a problem by one person may cause a number of difficulties for someone else. It is about how it affects you, what it is interfering with and what it is stopping you from doing. What matters is whether it is a problem for you. However, there are a specific set of circumstances when help should be sought more urgently and these are outlined in the section below.
Caring is often integral to people’s lives. What can be really important is how people manage their caring role. Carers often spend a lot of their time focusing on someone else. It can feel unnatural to think about yourself and your needs when you care for someone. However, it’s important that carers look after their own wellbeing too. Taking positive steps can help people avoid physical and mental health problems. If you are able to stay well, you are more likely to be able to provide good support for longer, without getting overwhelmed. Looking after wellbeing is good for carers and the people they care for. Here are some ideas about how to do this:
- Stay healthy
- Share feelings
- Use relaxation techniques
- Take a break
- Make time for yourself
- Try to be organized and realistic
- Try to get lots of information
- Focus on the positives
- Support the independence of the person you care for
- Make a plan in case of a crisis
How can psychology help?
Sometimes people prefer to have more formal support in the form of talking therapies. Studies have found that formal mindfulness (an aspect of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy – ACT) can be helpful. The evidence base suggests that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and ACT are both effective in helping people manage their caring experiences.
However, everyone is an individual and although mindfulness, CBT or ACT can be extremely effective for managing carer stress, sometimes a different therapeutic approach or a therapy tailored to the individual and their needs is more appropriate. The assessment stage of any therapeutic intervention provides an opportunity to develop an in depth understanding of your difficulties on which a tailored individual therapy can be developed specifically for you.